Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community | Study Guide

Robert Putnam

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Course Hero, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Study Guide," February 6, 2018, accessed July 16, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Bowling-Alone-The-Collapse-and-Revival-of-American-Community/.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community | Section 4, Chapter 18 : So What? (Safe and Productive Neighborhoods) | Summary

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Summary

Putnam argues that neighborhoods with "high levels of social capital tend to be good places to raise children." He argues that trust, social networks, and engagement create neighborhoods where "spaces are cleaner, people are friendlier, and the streets are safer."

To support his argument Putnam cites criminologist Robert Sampson, who says crime occurs most often in "communities characterized by ... anonymity ... unsupervised teenage peer groups ... and low social participation in local activities." Putnam also cites a correlation between states with low rates of violent crime and high levels of social capital.

Putnam believes "the decline in neighborhood social capital ... is one important feature of the inner-city crisis." He points to the flight of the middle class as a drain on social capital. Without this group, says Putnam, it is extremely difficult to maintain institutions such as churches, stores, and schools.

Instead of communities gangs have arisen, which he says may "be seen as a misguided attempt at neighborhood-based social capital building ... where constructive institutions are sadly lacking." Similarly, says Putnam, mass shootings in suburban areas are signs of the collapse of social capital in neighborhoods. He concludes: "as the breakdown of community continues in more privileged settings, affluence and education are insufficient to prevent collective tragedy."

Analysis

Putnam's theory is social capital—friends engaged with and looking out for friends—is the glue that binds neighborhoods and communities. He suggests crime and violence are outcomes, to a large degree, of decreased social capital.

While this may be the case in some situations, it is also important to note that very strong social ties can actually help to encourage violence. In some American cities, very close ties among ethnic groups in neighborhoods actually has led to the development of gangs and to violent clashes. In addition, strong ties among certain ethnic and racial groups has led, in many cases, to exclusion of those considered to be "other" and even to violence against individuals who are not part of the accepted group. For example, he says, "Inner-city gangs might be seen as a misguided attempt at neighborhood-based social capital building ..." Yes, you can join a gang for greater social capital—but "social integration into a community of bad actors may not produce good results."

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